Shoftim (Deut. 16:18 – 21:9)

It’s the month of Elul, and this week we read the fourth of the seven Haftarot of Consolation, both of which mean Rosh Hashanah will be here in a few weeks.  During Elul, the shofar is sounded after weekday morning services, and we become contemplative and introspective in preparation for the High Holidays.  The Haftarot of Consolation contribute to the season through an ultimately hopeful dialogue between Israel and the Lord, according to the 14th century sage Abudarham: (1) The Lord tells the prophets to comfort the people; (2) Israel responds with despair; (3) the prophets report that Israel will not be comforted; (4 – this week) the Lord reassures Israel; (5) while acknowledging Israel’s pain, the Lord calls for Israel to sing and (6) to shine.  Finally (7), Israel is able to rejoice. (Source:  N. Leibowitz, Studies in Devarim, pp.154-155)

As for the Torah reading, it deals largely with the establishment of a judicial system for life in the Promised Land.  It is hierarchical and includes both magistrates and priests. It is dedicated to the pursuit of justice: (16:20):  “Justice, justice shall you pursue (tzedek, tzedek tirdof), that you may thrive and occupy the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” Note that you are to pursue justice, though you might not always achieve it. “Tzedek” is more nuanced than pure, rigid legalism.  Justice requires judgment.  More fundamentally, Shoftim concerns how legitimate authority is to be established in the Promised Land.  Once the highest judge decides an issue, that’s it, like our Supreme Court (a.k.a. “SCOTUS” or “The Supremes”).  A king will have authority that is clearly limited by law. The military is not all-powerful but is ordered to conduct war, including conscription, humanely.  But even the law itself is only authoritative because it represents the authority of the Lord.

Shabbat shalom,



Supreme Court Humor

“Do you ever have one of those days when everything seems unconstitutional?”


Supreme Court Humor By Jay Wexler

I take great and absurd pride in the fact that of all the things I’ve ever written, the one that has gotten by far the most attention was a 3 page joke “study” of Supreme Court oral argument humor called “Laugh Track” that took me about two hours to write.  I published the “study” in an awesome legal journal called The Green Bag.  (this is the study)  Adam Liptak of the New York Times read the study and thought it was funny enough to write a goofy piece about it for the Times.  The NYT story ran on December 31, 2005.  Because it was maybe the slowest news day of the year, the piece ran on the front page.


Liptak’s article got a lot of attention and was mentioned in all sorts of radio and television and print stories.  I did lots of interviews, including one with Jake Tapper for ABC’s Nightline in which I said “uhh” a lot.


In 2007, I did a follow up “study” which was published in the Yale Law Journal’s online companion site.


On my blog in 2008 and 2009 I ran a few updates, including pieces on Breyer and Kagan.


During Kagan’s confirmation hearing, Senator Schumer (whose chief counsel may or may not be a good friend of mine) referenced my original study when asking the nominee whether she might give Scalia a run for his money in the laughter department.


In January 2011, the Washington Post ran an article about a non-funny follow up study to my study published in the Communication Law Journal; the Post article mentioned my study several times.  Then Liptak got back into the game, writing this piece in the Times about the new study and my old study, and reporting that when he asked me about the new study, I replied: “I’m not sure what to think about it, but I’m pretty sure it makes me want to die.”


In June of 2012, at the American Constitution Society’s Annual Convention, my former boss Justice Ginsburg referred to the study, and to me, though not by name, at about the 8 minute, 10 second mark, in what I think was a pretty funny speech about the 2011-2012 term.


“Laugh Track”: the gift that keeps on giving.

Addendum:  By chance, I just came across a new article by Jay Wexler (now a Boston U. law professor), “I Made Clarence Thomas Laugh,” available at  .


Royalty  (selected)

2.       It is difficult to escape being a peasant because resistance is feudal.  Dr. Pun – Texas                                                                                        

3.       The king never let any of his personal musicians go swimming immediately after eating for fear that they would get minstrel cramps.     Dr. Punsalot – Des Moines, IA            

6.    Kings worry about a receding heir line.                                            

8.    The duke and the count had a fight. The duke was down for the count.      

12.  Kings sometimes found that uprisings were a peasant surprise.        OGM 

15.  What do you call a mean Ancient Egyptian leader? Un-fair-oh.    cringemasta     

17.  Two duchesses were arguing about their husbands. They decided to duke it out. 

19.  Surprisingly, Julius Caesar preferred ranch.     Salad Madness          

25.  The eastern potentate spent money as if it were Emir drop in the bucket.   


The Exception

By Rod Powers, Guide

The First Sergeant noticed a new private one day and barked at him to come into his office. “What is your name?” was the first thing the First Sergeant asked the new guy.

“John,” the new guy replied.

The First Sergeant scowled, “Look, I don’t know what kind of bleeding-heart, liberal pansy stuff they’re teaching troops in Basic today, but I don’t call anyone by their first name. It breeds familiarity and that leads to a breakdown in authority. I refer to my privates by their last name only – Smith, Jones, Baker – that’s all. I am to be referred to only as ‘First Sergeant.’ Do I make myself clear?”

“Yes, First Sergeant!”

“Good! Now that we got that straight, what is your last name?”

The new guy sighed and said, “Darling. My name is John Darling, First Sergeant!”

“Okay, John, the next thing I want to tell you is…”


Cannonical Murphy’s Laws of Combat

(I don’t know whether that’s an accidental misspelling of “canonical” or a deliberate pun on military cannons. IGP)

5. A sucking chest wound is Nature’s way of telling you to slow down.
6. If it’s stupid but it works, it isn’t stupid.
23. Teamwork is essential; it gives the enemy other people to shoot at.
31. If the enemy is within range, so are you.
32. The only thing more accurate than incoming enemy fire is incoming friendly fire.
33. Things which must be shipped together as a set, aren’t.
34. Things that must work together, can’t be carried to the field that way.
38. Make it too tough for the enemy to get in, and you won’t be able to get out.
43. Military Intelligence is a contradiction.
49. The Cavalry doesn’t always come to the rescue.
51. Mines are equal opportunity weapons.
56. Interchangeable parts aren’t.
62. Never stand when you can sit, never sit when you can lie down, never stay awake when you can sleep.
71. The more a weapon costs, the farther you will have to send it away to be repaired.
73. Field experience is something you don’t get until just after you need it.
87. Murphy was a grunt.
95. There is no such place as a convenient foxhole.
98. If your ambush is properly set, the enemy won’t walk into it.
103. The self-importance of a superior is inversely proportional to his position in the hierarchy (as is his deviousness and mischievousness).
104. There is always a way, and it usually doesn’t work.
110. The seriousness of a wound (in a fire-fight) is inversely proportional to the distance to any form of cover.
116. If orders can be misunderstood they will be.
117. Odd objects attract fire. You are odd.
120. The weight of your equipment is proportional to the time you have been carrying it.
122. If you need an officer in a hurry take a nap.
129. The quartermaster has only two sizes, too large and too small.
140. All or any of the above combined.


by sam3m

The Neighborhood Guys And The Draft [abridged]

Disclaimer: This piece begins with an apology to all of our servicemen and women and their family and friends. I do not advocate the actions of the men I describe. Rather, I am relating those things I remember as a kid.

In our neighborhood, with a few exceptions, the young men were not anxious to join the Army to go to Korea. This feeling was not based in a conscientious objector philosophy. They just felt that going someplace where people would shoot at you was not a good idea.

The government, on the other hand, and understandably, were kind of strict when requiring that everyone comply with the draft laws. So, our guys got draft notices requiring them to appear at a certain place at a certain time to be shipped to the nearest intake facility.

They didn’t show up at the appointed time and place. The government, after a reasonable amount of time, sent either FBI or MP’s to accompany these draft dodgers to Fort Dix in New Jersey where they were inducted into the Army.

That could well have been the end, but most were men of principle. The principle being that no one should shoot at them. So, individually they went AWOL and headed home.

Again, the Army allowed a reasonable amount of time to pass, then sent MP’s to capture each offender, return him to camp, and place him in the Fort Dix stockade where he remained for a month or two.

However, the neighborhood guys as they were released hit the road, beginning a cycle of capture-imprisonment-release-flight-capture. MP’s were in our neighborhood so frequently that they no longer got any attention.

Eventually the Army smartened up.  They waited until 10 or 15 were AWOL, then sent a bus with the MP’s to transport our guys back to camp and the waiting stockade.

My uncle was one of these guys, and he always said that he and his friends were among the few people to leave the Service owing the government money for transportation expenses.

Kind of our neighborhood’s contribution to the war effort.

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